Background: We assessed all deaths in the Netherlands that might have been related to IVF or to an IVF pregnancy in order to investigate this most serious complication.
Methods: All deaths related to IVF, within 1 year after IVF, from 1984 to 2008 were collected by sending a letter to all gynaecologists, and by retrieving data from a large cohort study examining the late effects of ovarian stimulation (OMEGA) and from the Dutch Maternal Mortality Committee.
Results: Six deaths were directly related to IVF (6/100,000), 17 deaths were directly related to the IVF pregnancy (42.5/100,000) and eight deaths were neither related to the IVF nor to the IVF-related pregnancy. The overall mortality in patients undergoing IVF procedures was lower than in the general population, whereas the overall mortality related to IVF pregnancies was higher than the maternal mortality in the general population.
Conclusion: The decreased mortality is probably the result of a 'healthy female effect' in women undergoing IVF. The high maternal mortality in IVF pregnancies is probably related to the high number of multiple pregnancies and to the fact that (donor egg) IVF is successfully used in women who are older. The fact that only a few deaths directly related to IVF are reported in the literature whereas we observed six in the Netherlands indicates worldwide under-reporting of IVF-related mortality. We underline the importance of reporting all lethal cases to the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology Committee 'Safety and Quality after IVF'.